Defense in the spotlight – Part I

When the defense is going well, the players are lauded and the schemes are unquestioned. However, when the defense gets abused and roasted with big plays, most fans quickly point their finger to the guy in the press box with the headphones on. Husky fans are no different and over the past month of the season, Husky Defensive Coordinator Tim Hundley found himself in the center of a maelstrom of discontent.

A quote hangs just inside the door of Hundley's office in the Graves Annex building that reads "The man who wins may have been counted out several times, but he didn't hear the referee." It was spoken by H. E. Jensen, but it is an inspiration that suits Hundley well.

"That comes with the job, that's part of the deal," said Hundley about the scathing criticism leveled at him following a rough ending to the season where the Husky defense was battered and abused by Miami, and then was unable to stop an avalanche of Texas points to preserve what looked like a certain Husky victory in the Holiday Bowl.

Head coach Rick Neuheisel and his defensive coaches met to address the issues on defense during the off-season. After long hours of study, consulting, and discussion, the Husky brain trust came away still believing that their schemes were fundamentally sound but that they broke in crucial situations that can be fixed, as well as ensuring that the correct personnel are on the field.

Those coaching brainstorming sessions included a newcomer to the staff, Cornell Jackson, who will coach the linebackers for Hundley. "He's a good man and he brings a lot of great things to the table," said Hundley of Jackson.

When asked about specific goals that the Husky defense have for this spring, Hundley was very quick in his reply.

"All of us want to put the very best players on the field. That is probably our biggest goal."

Two of his better ones will be watching spring from the sidelines, unfortunately. "We have some injury issues in the secondary with Roc (Alexander) and (Greg) Carothers being out (Shoulder), but we'll evaluate them more in the summer and obviously in the fall camp. Those guys have played some football for us so we have a pretty good idea of what they can do," said Hundley.

"We want to play as fast and aggressively as we can through the entire spring, and get our very best football players on the field. I don't think it will be too difficult, we have some real plusses in our linebacking corps. Some guys can run and get around the football and they need to get on the field. You cannot let experience supercede ability, so if there is a person who has played but is not as good of an athlete or football player, then that's just the way it is. The best player needs to play."

With that being said, expect every single defensive position to be thrown into competition this spring.

"Trust is a huge thing. There are issues that have been addressed in that regard with all of our players. It is not a one-on-one situation. You have to win those one-on-one match ups, but it takes 11 guys to be a good defensive football team. On offense you can make a stretch play work well with just one guy making a play. It's different on defense. Good offenses will find your mistakes. A good tailback will find that one mistake, and we can't have guys make mistakes and be competitive," said Hundley.

"It will be an interesting spring from that standpoint, to see who is willing to compete and who we can trust."

Another goal for Hundley, despite the injuries, will be to cement the Husky secondary. Last year's version at times featured Greg Carothers and Roc Alexander both playing with separated shoulders, and Wondame Davis bravely attempting to stop ball carriers despite weighing less than 170 pounds. Cornerback Derrick Johnson was also unavailable, forcing the Huskies to use true freshman Sam Cunningham.

"We want to make sure that we have a definite starting secondary by the end of spring. They have to have great feel for each other and to be able to make plays and go get the football. Those are two things we struggled with. We did not play the ball well as a football team. We need to make some plays on the football."

Nowhere was that more on display than in the fourth quarter of the Holiday Bowl game, when Texas repeatedly threw deep fade patterns against Husky corners that were in position to make plays, but didn't. That must be fixed and Hundley is looking for corners that are hungry enough to go after the ball.
End of part I.

Tomorrow in Part II, Hundley talks about what goes on in the booth during a football game and what happens at halftime. In Part III Hundley runs down the defensive schemes and potential two-deeps.

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